Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sentencing Day Doesn't Always Mean 'Go Directly to Jail'

On Aug. 12, when convicted Abington burglar Phillip Scott Leopold, 35, showed up in Montgomery County Court to be sentenced in connection with a May 2014 break-in at the home of a neighbor, Judge Wendy-Demchick Alloy refused his request to report to jail at a later date.

Leopold, who pleaded guilty to charges in May and was free on bail while awaiting sentencing, claimed he needed time to properly say good-bye to relatives.

Huh? Did I hear that right?

Leopold’s parents were in the courtroom and they could have told other relatives about Leopold’s plight.

In the end, I believe the judge got it right.

Montco Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy/Mercury file Photo

“You’ve had enough time to say good-bye to your family members. You should have attempted that before you got here,” Demchick-Alloy told Leopold, ordering him to immediately begin serving the six to 23 month sentence.

But sentencing day in Montgomery County Court doesn’t always mean a defendant who is sentenced to jail is going directly to jail that day. Time and time again I see judges grant defense requests to allow those sentenced to jail to report days, sometimes weeks later.

It’s like acquiring a “GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD” for a bit longer. But this isn’t a game of Monopoly.

Defense lawyers will often claim a defendant needs extra time to make “arrangements” at home for things such as child care or to get “their affairs in order” regarding finances, etc., and seek delayed reporting dates.

Doesn’t that amount to justice by appointment?

The way I see it, defendants have been free on bail for months since their trial convictions or guilty pleas and that time should have been used to make those “arrangements.” They know that jail is a possibility when they show up to be sentenced so shouldn’t they already be prepared to begin paying their debts to society?
And why wouldn’t a defendant just want to get the time behind bars over with? Why would they want to let impending jail time hang over their heads for a few more days or weeks?

Often, victims, who have been waiting months or years for justice, come to court to witness judgment day and only see it delayed a bit longer when a defendant doesn’t have to report to jail immediately.

Personally, I think defendants awaiting sentencing need to start bringing their toothbrushes with them when they come to court so they're prepared for the immediate trip to jail if a judge determines time behind bars is warranted.

Don’t get me wrong, delayed reporting dates might be appropriate if a judge is granting an offender immediate work release as part of a sentence. Turns out it can take a few days for jail officials to work out those schedules with an offender’s employer. So the offender doesn’t lose their job, a delayed report date might be necessary. I understand that.

Likewise, I understood when Judge William R. Carpenter gave a pregnant Main Line mother of two several  days to report to jail after she admitted that her reckless conduct while driving caused the death of a Conshohocken man during a two-vehicle crash in Lower Merion. Carpenter allowed Meredith Williams-Earle, 32, who is expecting her third child in December, a few days to report to jail, after she pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, so she could attend a previously scheduled appointment with her obstetrician.

But throughout my years of reporting on the courts I have seen most criminal court judges grant delays in reporting dates in some cases that don’t involve work release sentences. Here are some recent examples:

Earlier this month, Judge Garrett D. Page sentenced Jessica Streeper, 34, a former eighth-grade teacher at a Norristown school, to nine to 23 months in jail for having sex with a 14-year-old male student. Defense lawyer Marc Neff asked the judge to give Streeper about a month to report to jail so she could be home with her children until school begins.
Assistant District Attorney Sophia Polites adamantly opposed the request arguing, “Today was sentencing day” and Streeper should go directly to jail.
Montco Judge Garrett D. Page/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

But Judge Page decided to give Streeper, of Buckingham Township, Bucks County, one week, to report to jail and she walked out of court free to be with her husband and children for another week.

On Aug. 11, Judge Thomas P. Rogers sentenced Dylan A. Bruner, 29, of Horsham, to 11 ½ to 23 months in jail in connection with a 10:13 p.m. July 10, 2014, two-vehicle crash in the 800 block of Welsh Road in Horsham that killed Maureen Chapman, 69, of New Britain Township. Rogers gave Bruner until Aug. 24 to surrender to jailers.
Dylan Bruner/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

The list goes on. Call it a pet peeve of mine, but personally, I think that’s a list that should not keep getting longer. 

No comments:

Post a Comment